Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Pride Goeth Before Alien Abduction

Do you have enough insurance?  Maybe you do for your car, your home, or your health.  But what if you are kidnapped by aliens from outer space?  Do you have the financial resources to prevail in such a calamity?  You probably don’t even think about it.  Betty and Barney Hill didn’t think about it, when they were chased down a lonely country road by a flying saucer back in 1961.  Their frightful memories of the event were mostly erased by their strange, grey skinned, uniformed captors.  Mr. and Mrs. Hill could only wonder at the odd mutilation of their clothing, their ruined watches, their weirdly engraved automobile.

Fred Reagan didn’t think about it, back in 1951, when his small plane collided with a cough drop shaped UFO, sending him plummeting to earth and almost certain doom.  He was rescued in the middle of the air by shiny, asparagus-shaped aliens. Apologetic, they attempted to compensate him for their error by curing his cancer, and left him unharmed in a farmer’s field not far from his demolished piper cub.  Sadly, he died not long afterwards of “degeneration of the brain tissue due to extreme atomic radiation.”

Fred, Betty and Barney—Wilma seems to have avoided these difficulties, being the level headed one—were victims of unforeseen, unplanned alien encounters.  They did not enjoy the safeguards now available for just a one-time payment of $19.95 to the St. Lawrence Agency of Altamonte Springs, Florida, which specializes in UFO Abduction Insurance. 

Coverage includes a stipend of $1.00 per year for the rest of the policy-holder’s life or for one million years, whichever comes first.  This amount is doubled if the claim involves carrying the child of an extraterrestrial, or if the policyholder is devoured by the extraterrestrial.  Some outpatient medical expenses may also be covered.  Note:  To avoid delayed processing of the claim, a signature from an onboard alien is required—admittedly difficult to obtain in some situations.

But reports of alien abductions similar to those of Reagan and the Hills were taken very seriously by Charles Fort, among others.  He was a renowned early twentieth century specialist in unexplained phenomena who published four books in this broad field between 1919 and 1932.  S.T Joshi notes that H.P. Lovecraft probably read Fort’s first publication, The Book of the Damned (1919) in the spring of 1927, after Donald Wandrei loaned him his copy.  L. Sprague de Camp comments that Lovecraft appreciated the book mainly as a source of ideas for his weird fiction, though he did not take Fort’s material seriously or as fact.

Fort gave some attention to extraterrestrial visitors in New Lands (1923), his second book. Fort writes:

Someday I shall publish data that lead me to suspect that many appearances upon this earth that were once upon a time interpreted by theologians and demonologists, but are now supposed to be the subject-matter for psychic research, were beings and objects that visited this earth, not from a spiritual existence, but from outer space.
One supposes that if extra-mundane vessels have sometimes come close to this earth, then sailing away, terrestrial aëronauts may have occasionally left this earth, or may have been seized and carried away from this earth.

Earlier in New Lands, Fort makes these introductory comments:

Whether acceptable, or too preposterous to be thought of, our data are of rabbles of living things that have been seen in the sky; also of processions of military beings—monsters that live in the sky and die in the sky, and spatter this earth with their red life-fluids—ships from other worlds that have been seen by millions of the inhabitants of this earth, exploring, night after night, in the sky of France, England, New England and Canada…  

(It is interesting to compare Fort’s speculations with Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1913 story, The Horror of the Heights, a classic science fiction tale from roughly the same time period.  See also What Else is Up There?)

Accounts of extraterrestrial abductions appear throughout history, and are suggested perhaps metaphorically in some mythological tales.  For example, in the Old Testament book of Second Kings is this interesting passage:

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. (2 Kings 2:11)

The passage serves a theological purpose; as traditionally interpreted, it shows how the great prophet literally passed his mantle on to his protégé Elisha, who then continued his work.  However, in the hands of an ardent ufologist this and other biblical passages seem indicative of early encounters with extraterrestrials and their vehicles. (See also Ezekiel 1:4-28 for a classic biblical UFO description.)  It seems possible that the passage in Second Kings was also one of the inspirations, along with Lord Dunsany’s work, for H.P. Lovecraft’s The Other Gods (1933).  The two story lines share several similarities.

From the early 1950s to the late 1960s some of these accounts of alien abductions began to take shape as “official documentation”, with many of the stories beginning to employ certain repeating images and conventions, that is, a generic form.  Interested readers may want to look at Fred Nadis’ The Man from Mars, Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey (2013), which describes some of this interesting literature circa late 1940s and early 1950s.  (See also Saucers, Doughnuts, and Lost Continents.)

Hugh B. Cave, a shudder pulp writer discussed in several earlier posts, wrote a short entertaining parody of UFO abduction accounts called Take Me, For Instance (1974).  Published a little after the popularity of stories about flying saucer abductions had peaked, Cave’s story describes the reactions of several small town neighbors to the appearance of invisible extraterrestrials in their midst. 

Take Me, For Instance is interesting because of several conventional elements that are not present. Clever scientists, the military, or agents of the government are completely absent—just the ‘local yokels’, muddling through in a small rural village.  Cave also overturns the form in a couple other ways: he has everyone in the village suspecting the presence of the aliens except their eventual victim, and depicts the aliens as polite and good-natured—exactly the opposite of the typical UFO abduction yarn, which tends to emphasize paranoia, conspiracy and a shadowy malevolence.

The aliens talk exactly like Yoda, who would not appear for another six years, until his debut in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980).  Here is a sample of their conversation with the narrator of the story:

“All right,” I said out loud.  “Who are you and what do you want?”
“What does ‘thunderation’ mean?” a kind of squeaky voice answered.
“We are sorry. Your language so many words has, it for us is hard.  You new ones keep using.”
“What the devil language do you speak?” Moddy 
“You not could it learn,” the voice said.  “You not could manage the sounds.  We must yours learn.”

The aliens with English word order and vocabulary very unfamiliar are, it being a second language. But they also have little grasp of English slang and idioms, which they tend to interpret quite literally.  The joke of the story turns on the titular phrase ‘take me, for instance’, which the local braggart is always using when he compares himself favorably to the other characters.  He says this once too often, and at an inopportune time.  Take Me, For Instance is very different in tone from the shudder pulp stories Cave is known for—it is much more low key, with a slow, amiable pace, and is nearly devoid of sex and violence.  A sense of humor also makes it unique.

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